U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. AP file/David Goldman
Photo: David Goldman/AP
Photo: David Goldman/AP

The Jolt: Johnny Isakson voices bottled-up frustration over immigration

The move didn’t exactly come out of left field, but U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s Thursday vote in favor of a Democratic proposal to reopen the government still raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

Isakson was joined by five other Republicans, including Mitt Romney, who broke ranks to back a two-week continuing resolution that omitted funding for a border wall but sought to buy time for negotiators to cut a deal on border security. (Isakson joined Georgia colleague David Perdue in voting for a Republican border security bill as well, which overall received two fewer votes than the Democratic measure -- though both failed.)

Isakson indicated he planned to join Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin’s bipartisan effort to find a way out of the impasse, now in its 35th day.

“I want us to go back to work. I want our people to get paid. It’s our responsibility to do that,” Isakson told one of your Insiders yesterday. “I’m not picking fights… I’m trying to pick up solutions.”

Isakson’s move came a few days after he excoriated his colleagues on the Senate floor for “not doing a damned thing while the American people are suffering” during the shutdown. 

It’s far from certain that Cardin, Isakson or party leaders will get any closer to cutting a border security agreement than President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have in recent weeks. But it presented a glimmer of hope after weeks of inaction and finger-pointing.

One thing worth noting is Isakson’s close relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who to date has largely sat out of the shutdown negotiations.

Isakson is ultimately a party man. He likely wouldn’t have voted for the two-week stopgap had he not been given the leeway by McConnell & Co.

On the other hand, frustration is building among Senate Republicans.

This morning, WSB Radio’s Jamie Dupree reminded us of a closed-door GOP caucus meeting on Thursday, prior to the two votes, which included Vice President Mike Pence. We’re told that it became more than testy as senators made clear they’re fed up with a shutdown fight that has no logical exit ramp. Isakson was among those expressing concern.

But resentment actually goes deeper than that, if Isakson’s Thursday’s remarks are any measure. The Georgia senator called out fellow Republicans for making immigration a weapon to be wielded in GOP primaries at the expense of pragmatic government – never mind viability in general elections.

Isakson pointed specifically to the 2007 immigration reform effort led in the Senate by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Isakson was part of the effort.

“We got castigated and ruined because, all of the sudden, amnesty became a four-letter word. Political consultants found it an easy way to run against people in the party. So for 20, 15 years, we’ve been beating each other over something that ought to be easy to do,” he said.

***

At the first stop of her “thank you” tour, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams surprised some in the audience by keeping her attention trained on Gov. Brian Kemp, with nary a mention of U.S. Sen. David Perdue or the federal shutdown. 

That changed on Thursday as she sent her supporters a lengthy dispatch accusing Perdue and Sen. Johnny Isakson of perpetuating the crisis. 

“This is not how government should operate. Donald Trump and his Republican allies are sponsoring a government lockout in order to funnel money towards a wall that promises to be both ineffective and unnecessary,” Abrams wrote.

***

President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings have plummeted with the federal shutdown. But here’s something from Politico.com that may cheer him up:

Newly released Florida voter data suggest President Donald Trump will begin his reelection campaign as the favorite in a state that offers a windfall of 29 electoral votes. The driving force: white voters who broke Republican and showed up in such big numbers in 2018 that it looked as if they were casting ballots in a presidential election and not a midterm.

***

There are times when pollsters are baffled by their own numbers. On Thursday, the people who do surveys at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., released some new data from a December poll on racial attitudes in the South.

Much of it was unsurprising. For instance, the survey found that more than half of African-Americans in the region report that they have been discriminated against in the last year because of their race or ethnicity, while 18 percent of whites report such discrimination.

But then there was the question of whether “white European heritage” should be preserved. Thirty percent of whites said yes. Twenty-eight percent of African-Americans said yes. So the results can be interpreted as statistically identical.

“We’re not sure what resulted in this common outlook. It could be something as simple as the realization that we sprung from the colonies of a European power,” poll director Scott Huffmon said. “We do know, however, that the phrase ‘white European heritage’ clearly held distinct meaning for some. Nearly half of those who viewed the Confederate flag favorably agreed with the preservation of white European heritage.”

***

It’s not yet clear whether Georgia GOP chair John Watson will seek another two-year term ahead of this summer’s state convention, but he’s already drawn a potential challenger. Bruce Azevedo, a real estate agent who chairs the Ninth District GOP, has told activists he’s seeking the job. 

***

You know that state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, has already announced his intention to challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, in 2020. And you know that Republican Karen Handel is also considering a bid to reclaim her Sixth District congressional seat. This could turn into a crowded GOP primary, because even more names are beginning to surface. Among them: Former state Sen. Judson Hill of Marietta, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann and Alpharetta City Councilman Ben Burnett.

***

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee largely played a behind-the-scenes role in last year's Seventh District race between GOP incumbent Rob Woodall and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux. But this cycle, the campaign arm of House Democrats is signaling it plans to spend big in the Forsyth and Gwinnett-based district, which Woodall held with fewer than 500 votes in November. 

The DCCC this morning launched an initial digital ad buy against Woodall and two-dozen other House Republicans from competitive districts. The Facebook ad pins blame on Woodall for Coast Guard, Border Patrol and TSA officers missing a second paycheck due to the shutdown. 

Woodall -- and all of his Georgia GOP colleagues in the House -- have voted against all 10 of the piecemeal spending bills Democrats have put forward since the funding lapse began on Dec. 22. Woodall said the proposals did not include enough border security spending and has urged party leaders to get serious about coming to a compromise on the president's proposed border wall. 

***

The Covington, Ky., family of Nick Sandmann, the Catholic school student who went viral last week, has hired top Atlanta lawyer L. Lin Wood to represent their son. Wood has a long history with First Amendment cases. He represented JonBenet Ramsey's brother in a $750 million defamation suit against CBS, and the family of Richard Jewell in a libel case against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

***

Or we could build him into the half-time show: We’re not exactly sure how serious he was, but U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk floated a novel idea on Thursday: He suggested that President Donald Trump could deliver his State of the Union address in Georgia. 

In an appearance on Fox Business, the Cassville Republican said Atlanta was ready to host the president if he wanted to deliver his annual address to the nation on Tuesday as originally scheduled. 

"We have the Mercedes-Benz dome in Atlanta, which is prepped right now for the Super Bowl. Homeland Security is already there, we've already got it secured. That would be a perfect venue for the president to come to Atlanta this coming Tuesday before the Super Bowl,” Loudermilk said.

His comments came shortly after Trump agreed to postpone his speech after facing off against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

***

A collection of conservative, libertarian and consumer groups have sent a note to state lawmakers, pointing to a bit of Georgia law that they think needs correcting. If you’re a college graduate still nursing a student loan, you’ll like it. From the letter:

Georgia is one of only 15 states that are empowered to suspend the occupational licenses of professionals who have fallen behind on their student loans. While originally enacted to hold borrowers accountable and discourage defaults, this policy is counterproductive.

The simple truth is that the law works against its goal of debt collection. Without a license, many Georgians are forbidden from working in their profession, and it is obviously difficult, if not impossible, to repay one’s debts without a job.

Among those who put their signatures at the bottom of the letter: Marc Hyden of the R Street Institute; Randy Hicks of Georgia Center for Opportunity; Nathan Humphrey, representing the Georgia arm of the National Federation of Independent Business; and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks.

In a happy coincidence, state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Holly Springs, filed House Bill 42 last week. It would address this very situation. Imagine that.

***

Shalise Steele-Young, a candidate in the special election for Atlanta City Council, has retracted a statement touting an endorsement from civil rights leader C.T. Vivian. From her email:

“We respect and revere Dr. Vivian, our beloved Civil Rights icon, and we deeply regret and take responsibility for any misunderstanding or uncertainty that we may have caused over this matter.”

The March 19 election is for the District 3 seat made vacant by the death of Ivory Lee Young.

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